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GadgeTell Review: Libratone Zipp Wireless Speaker

Sections: Accessories, Apple, Audio, Communications, Home Audio, Mobile, Portable Audio, Reviews, Smartphones, Speakers

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If you don’t believe that the market for speakers and personal audio equipment is already saturated, just wait until 2014. There’s going to be more competition galore. Even now, there are so many choices across the brackets of price and size that a bit of hunting can find the ideal speaker for that unique person you know.

libratone-zipp-650x0

Today, speaker design and connectivity is practically as important as audio quality itself. This is more or less the core belief of Libratone, who happens to have an entire lineup dedicated to high-quality audio wrapped up in Scandinavian design.

The Libratone Zipp is the smallest of the Libratone family of speakers, though it can be considered a behemoth by other standards. But don’t be fooled. It’s portable-enough stature belies some impressive output.

Design & Connectivity

The Libratone Zipp is decently sized with a shape that is becoming more and more ubiquitous. The cylindrical design lets the speaker provide 360 degrees of sound, requiring very little tweaking whatsoever. Just pick it up and set it down anywhere you want to create a central point for audio enjoyment.

Libratone Zipp black

Elegant controls, neatly tucked away

While the Zipp can travel outdoors, it’s not something you’d want to test against the elements. Nothing other than a sweet breeze and warm sunshine, that is.

The leather strap makes it easy to pick up and bring along everywhere, which is something that many shelf systems are incapable of.

The front of the Libratone Zipp is the point closest to the power/volume buttons. Not that it makes a huge difference in terms of audio, but if you’re a bit OCD then you’re on my same page. The ports? They’re all conveniently located under the strap, out of sight.

The Libratone Zipp features an auxiliary port, USB charge port, and AirPlay Wireless – pretty much everything to connect to devices except for Bluetooth. Pity. The speaker is, however, DLNA compatible, so you can set it up to connect to your home’s wireless network to play music from any network-connected device (provided the player is also DLNA compatible).

There are LEDs to indicate power and wireless connectivity. There isn’t much to do to set the Zipp up, for the most part. Android users will have to perform a couple of additional steps, one of which is to download a DLNA-compatible app that will recognize and use the speaker.

Libratone Zipp naked

Covers strip off readily to show the naughty bits

The Zipp has a standard USB output port to charge up devices. This feature is rather bizarre to me, with respect to this speaker specifically. The Zipp’s internal battery only lasts 8 hours wired and 4 hours wireless, which is not that much compared to alternate options.

Inside the home, one would more than likely keep the speaker plugged in, separate from where mobile devices might be charged.

Outside of the house, the 4 (or 8 if you have a cable handy, I suppose) hours quickly shrinks as energy is siphoned off. An external backup battery would be far more effective toward that purpose.

The package comes with three separate covers that one can unzip and exchange. These wool covers actually look pretty nice when you have it set up among your things. The choices of black, gray, and red makes it easy to compliment almost any room’s color scheme. Additional colors cost a small fortune at $50 apiece, but I recognize the purpose and appeal. Nothing visually diminishes a high-end product more than a cheap-looking exterior.

Audio Quality

The Libratone Zipp puts out a good amount of sound for the (relatively) smallish size. It easily fills up rooms evenly. While some speakers in the size/price bracket below the Zipp can achieve the same volume levels, most lack the quality. By comparison, the Zipp projects music while maintaining a good richness. Lesser speakers just get louder, typically with more distortion and less detail.

Like most any speaker, passing a certain threshold of volume leads to distortion, and the Libratone Zipp is no different. I found the volume level of 75 to be the sweet spot. Beyond that point the music starts to suffer. Metal songs, such as “Awaken” by Dethklok, develop some serious distortion, even though the guitars are handled pretty well. Music tracks similar to Mike Patton’s “Ore D’Amore”, off the Mondo Cane album, will start to sound bleached instead.

Libratone Zipp speaker

See that speaker there? It’s the meat and potatoes of the audio quality

But when the volume is kept in check, the music reflects rich tones and depth. While listening to “Scalinatella” (again from Mondo Cane), I can hear Mike Patton’s warm vocals and rolling Rs in front of the clear strums of strings. There is a sense of spaciousness as the Zipp picks up the faint echo of Patton’s hard consonants as he sings.

While the Libratone Zipp showcases great depth, the 360 degree nature of the speaker design makes for lackluster lateral imaging. “You Can’t Quit Me Baby”, by Queens of the Stone Age, is a great song for feeling the instruments pop up around you. The ends of the soundstage are very vague with the Zipp. You can walk around the speaker and hear no dead-zones, as left and right more or less overlap each other.

To me, the most notable aspect of the Libratone Zipp is the amazing transparency. I can turn away from the speaker and practically imagine that the band is right behind me for my personal enjoyment. Piano notes sound as if I’m the one playing them, as the speaker just disappears into the background and leaves you with a performance.

It can also reach precise highs with clarity and without flattening at the peaks. The difference between a hi-hat being tapped and a cymbal being brushed is absolutely unmistakable. There is no sizzle. The trill of flutes are defined well, complete with the prefacing breathiness of the musician.

Libratone Zipp red monkey

Looks great in the nursery

When it comes to female vocals, the Zipp excels. While listening to Nighwish’s album, Once, Tarja Turunen’s voice projects with a siren-like power that showcases her operatic training.

The speaker handles marriages of precise female vocals with thunderous drums and guitars, prominent on the album’s track “Romanticide.”

Do you favor some epic-sounding metal? Listen to Karma by Kamelot. The Libratone Zipp deftly handles the midrange complexity that arises throughout the majority of the album. Vocals have their space without being crowded by instruments or leaving them too far behind.

When it comes to the bass, the levels sound pretty balanced, and the Zipp puts it exactly where I like it. There is enough thump without it being excessive or overtaking the mids. The lows come out clean with good control; there’s no boominess, even with the volume maxed out (of course, distortion is another matter).

Because of the size, the lows are able to sound fuller when compared to speakers in the next price/size bracket down. What the Zipp lacks in low-end power – for those who are picky or want “more” when it comes to the bass – it makes up in energy. You can’t help but bob your head and “shake ya ass,” even though an organic means of boosting the lows is left to be desired.

Libratone App

Considering the thought and effort put forth with the Libratone Zipp, I was expecting much much more from an audio companion app. The app offers meager settings which are pretty inconsequential. The handful of preset sound profile options make only the slightest of differences to the music, and only if you’re listening for it.

Libratone Zipp red shelf

Blends right in with the decor!

The only part of the app that I found to be somewhat useful (but, again, unnecessary for the most part) is the speaker adjustment based on location. You can indicate if the Zipp is on a table or next to a wall, and then adjust a few configurations for the most ideal output.

If you own and use Apple mobile devices, AirPlay is going to be peachy keen. However, most Android users are going to have to download a DLNA compatible music player to connect wirelessly to the Libratone Zipp.

Libratone has an opportunity to really make a great app that not only configures audio devices, but lets users play and sort through music. Adding DLNA functionality would also round it out nicely.

So we’re given options for sound profiles, but no actual equalizer controls. The app lets you view the wireless signal strength, but not the battery level. So what is the Libratone app really useful for? Deleted.

Verdict

The Libratone Zipp creates wonderful sound that flows out and touches you right in the feelings. It delivers music in such a way that gets people up and moving, an aspect that is sometimes lost on many other speakers. I was dubious about the wool covers at first. But after dressing the speaker up and down a few times to coordinate in various rooms, I found that it really blends in well.

The Libratone Zipp is more like a portable fixture. The 4-hour wireless battery life (8 for wired, and trust me when I say that it dies out in a snap, on the hour) prevents it from being that speaker to bring with you for a day at the beach or half a week of camping. It’s portable, but not portable-portable. You’d want to keep it plugged in at a spot, but it easily travels with you when you’d want to relocate to the backyard or a friend’s house.

The biggest decision regarding the Libratone Zipp is the price. One might expect more from the speaker, arguing that it lacks quality compared to competition in the same bracket. Or, one could spend much less without losing too much on the sound quality.

There is always a premium that comes with design, especially when coupled with portability. The bottom line is if you can ignore/mitigate the sticker price, the Zipp looks great and sounds amazing. If there is ever a speaker that you deserve, you can’t go wrong with this one.

 

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